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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Full Text of Camp Blodgett's Babies Welfare Guild

The history of the Babies’ Welfare Guild is marked with generosity and love. Indeed, the very purpose for which it was organized stems from Mrs. Grace Logie Dillard’s overwhelming desire to provide aid to individuals in need.

Upon the birth of her first child, Mrs. Dillard was laden with anxiety due to her baby’s increasing frailty. Lack of proper medical assistance and equipment within Grand Rapids contributed to her angst. It was in this reality that Mrs. Dillard’s concern grew for all mothers and children whose situations were similar to her own. As a result of this concern, Mrs. Logie committed herself to the care of frail, undernourished babies, babies with disabilities, and the education of mothers with premature babies. From this commitment also grew two ideals by which the Babies’ Welfare Guild holds fast – unselfish aid to those in need and devotion to the highest standards of altruism.

As a member of the Board of the D.A. Blodgett Home for Children, Mrs. Dillard saw the fullest extent of child abandonment and neglect within Grand Rapids, Michigan. While the D.A. Blodgett Home for Children was successful in its own right, Mrs. Logie knew that extra funds were necessary for its proper upkeep and service.

The Babies’ Welfare Guild was introduced in 1912, replacing the Young Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Children’s Home, founded by Mrs. Robert Dillard, as a fundraising arm for the Children’s Home. Their main focus was providing the funds necessary to distribute breast milk to undernourished infants within the Home and Grand Rapids. Still in existence today, it remains one of the oldest women’s guilds in Grand Rapids. 

The Pink Ball, the Guild’s most prominent fundraiser, was first held in 1915 at the Coliseum. The Ball would become an annual event dedicated to the interests of the Children’s Home. In addition, through rummage sales, quilt making, card parties, and other social gatherings, the Babies’ Welfare Guild became an influential piece of the Children’s Home’s history.

A camp program was introduced as an extension of the D.A. Blodgett Home for Children at the suggestion of two nurses within the D.A. Blodgett Home. The camp was organized as a place for the children to improve their physical condition and to enrich their lives. The outing was originally financed by Mrs. Delos Blodgett and other friends.

Miss Emma Lindquist, a nurse at the Children’s home, guided the search for a location and ultimately identified an empty hotel at Stony Lake, near Shelby. Having fallen into disuse after only two years of service, the owner of the hotel, Mr. C. L. Churchill, was told of the homeless, and often motherless, children under the care of the Children’s Home, and he graciously donated the use of his hotel. The hotel, situated on a hill overlooking Stony Lake and very near to Lake Michigan, was the ideal place for the children to enjoy themselves.

Despite the ease at which the building was acquired, the opening of the camp was not without its hardships. Indeed, arrangements had been made for the delivery of beds, nursery chairs, army cots, blankets, and other accessories to furnish the camp’s new building, but their arrival was delayed by harsh weather conditions. In addition, Miss Emma Lindquist, who was to arrive a day ahead of the children, was late in her arrival and unable to clean and prepare the hotel for the children. However, news of her delay resulted in the outpouring of generosity by members of the community. Men and women hurried to the building with brooms, mops, and pails, and began a concentrated effort to clean and prepare the building.

The children arrived a day later, by train and horse-drawn carriage, to a still unfurnished building, but were graciously taken into the homes of members of the community for the evening.

Once the truck carrying the furniture and equipment for the camp arrived, the fifty-five children returned to the building and began their first season at the Camp at Stony Lake. The community of Stony Lake continued to pour out their support for the camp throughout the summer with donations of fruits, vegetables, chickens, and ice cream. The children’s daily activities included afternoon walks, swimming sessions, evening sing-a-longs, and weekly trips to the candy store. Also, Sunday morning church services were held in the shade of a big Oak tree, and the children (pictured at right) sang hymns and other tunes that contributed to these services. The children were visibly pleased with their state, and enjoyed their six weeks on the lake.

In 1920, after two years at Stony Lake, Mr. and Mrs. John Wood Blodgett and Helen Blodgett Irwin purchased what is now Camp Blodgett – forty acres of fresh air on the shores of Lake Michigan. Having previously been the Barnhart Farm, the Camp was located at the Grand Haven Junction and was valued at $3250.00. Its only structure was a small farmhouse. However, through the generous donations of prominent individuals including Mr. and Mrs. Minor Keeler, the farmhouse was renovated to hold nearly twenty young girls and a dining area – the boys used tents as accommodations. 

The Babies’ Welfare Guild extended its fundraising arm to support the camp in 1921 by contributing buildings and equipment for the Camp’s use. Their first donation was $250 towards the purchase of a new car. The Babies’ Welfare Guild became increasingly dedicated to Camp Blodgett in the following years. Through their generous donations, the Camp was able to develop a Mess Hall, Hospital, the Recreation building, and two sleeping units. The Guild was often referred to as the “Big Sisters of Camp Blodgett,” because of their close, charitable relationship with the camp.

When Camp Blodgett was approached in 1934 by the state to open the Camp to other children within the city or its surrounding areas, they graciously agreed. That summer, sixty-two state children participated in the camp program, along with twenty-six children from the D.A. Blodgett Home. The Camp was financially reimbursed for their efforts by the state. Thus, Camp Blodgett is, at times, associated with the Michigan Children’s Aid.

      Prior to 1939, Camp Blodgett was primarily funded by private donors throughout Michigan. Indeed, Mr. John Wood Blodgett and the Babies’ Welfare Guild were two of the Camp’s largest supporters. The Babies’ Welfare Guild contributed nearly $3020.00 to the Camp from 1931-1938. However, in 1939 the Camp became a member of the Community Chest which, at the time, provided the monies necessary for basic functioning of the Camp such as lighting, heating, salaries, and provisions.

In 1942, in addition to the Pink Ball, the Guild began hosting an annual style show to raise support for Camp Blodgett and its programs. Over the years, many prominent Grand Rapids women added their hand to the event. Amongst them was Mrs. Gerald R. Ford, pictured at right, in her attire for the 1961 style show, which she narrated.

In 1947, Mrs. Mabel V. Graves, the former chairman of Camp Blodgett, and Mrs. John Steketee, her successor, met together with the Babies’ Welfare Guild to discuss renovations and new buildings needed for the Camp. The Guild offered $8000.00 for the project, and construction began immediately.  The new Community Health Service building, completed in May 1948, was dedicated in memoriam to Mrs. Joseph Hart and Mrs. Robert Hill – two individuals who spent nearly twenty years working tirelessly for the Camp. Their continued devotion was evident even in their passing, as they left monies to fund cabins in their name. Future Babies’ Welfare Guild members would do the same, including Mrs. Cedric Barrett, Mrs. Hagerman, and Mrs. Gustav Walgren. Indeed, the commitment of such individuals contributed greatly to the success of the Camp.

In 1951, because orphan homes had given way to foster care programs, summer camp was seen as an unnecessary expense, and Camp Blodgett was struggling to make ends meet. However, the Babies Welfare Guild worked tirelessly for the camp in order that it might become an independent organization. In 1951, their work became a success. Camp Blodgett became an independent agency under the auspices of the United Fund, or United Way.

The history of Camp Blodgett is, indeed, marked by several individuals who have kindly dedicated their time and energies towards the development of a special institution. In addition to the aforementioned individuals above, the late Gerald R. Ford was instrumental in efforts to fundraise for the construction of a new swimming pool, put in 1970, a task which the Babies’ Welfare Guild monitored.

Camp Blodgett has constantly been inventing and reinventing their role within the community over the course of their existence. As recently as 2000, Camp Blodgett expanded their influence by offering a year-round program to the children. In addition, realizing that the most crucial years of an individual’s life were their teen years, Camp Blodgett extended the camp’s services in 2000 to include a year-round program for children over the age of thirteen. The program encourages older children to get involved in their individual communities, to dedicate themselves to their academics, and to continue to use the skills and abilities they acquired throughout their time at Camp Blodgett.  

Today, the summer months at Camp Blodgett continue to be ones filled with laughter and joy. Indeed, nearly 500 children participate in Camp Blodgett’s summer camp program each year. The children, mostly from lower income and single-parent families, live in situations where they do not receive the proper educational and social experiences that are necessary to succeed in life. However, through a variety of activities offered at Camp Blodgett, such as hiking, biking, swimming, horseback riding, arts and crafts, and sports events, children learn their sense of value, and the value of those around them.

Dedicated to promoting self-confidence, a love of learning, and the capability to achieve, Camp Blodgett served, and continues to serve children, by providing them with a safe, enriching community. Its program is designed to develop close relationships between campers and positive adult role models while sharing significant, life-changing experiences.

The Babies’ Welfare Guild’s dedication and commitment to the children of Grand Rapids and its surrounding areas has also remained constant over the years with its generous outpouring of love and support.  

For thousands of children, Camp Blodgett has been a place for growth, friendship, and fun, but also a place of renewal and change. Perhaps the song of Camp Blodgett best describes its spirit and reason for being, “Pines and sands and skies of blue, Camp Blodgett will stay close to you. Many friendships you will find. Open your heart, your soul, your mind. Camp Blodgett you will always be our home away from home. We’ll always have your memories wherever we may roam.”

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